MIWENE follows Anita Enomenga, a Waorani woman living deep in the Amazon jungle, during a crucial period of change for her family, culture, and environment. Told from Anita's point of view, the film captures her transition from a quiet teenager into a confident young mother, driven to preserve her unique cultural identity. At sixteen, she lives with her parents and grandparents in the remote community of Kewediono. Her 90-year-old grandmother, Weba, is one of the last living Waorani elders old enough to have lived in complete isolation before first contact by missionaries. Anita attends the unique new high school in Kewediono, where they are challenging the old education system imposed on their territory, which has separated students from their culture and devalued their heritage. The students are consulting their elders and building a comprehensive guidebook to Waorani culture and scientific understanding of their rainforest--a textbook rife with ancestral knowledge that risks being lost completely with the passage of each Waorani elder. Shot over the course of eight years with intimate access to Anita’s family and community, the film captures what the subtle yet relentless creep of assimilation looks like at a personal level, reframing the broad narrative of ethnocide, from the destruction of a culture, to the stories of the individuals experiencing it first-hand. It is a story about reclaiming cultural identity and agency within a dramatically shifting world.
The Yasunì Biosphere of the Ecuadorian Amazon is considered to be the most biologically diverse place on earth, as well as Ecuador’s largest untapped oil reserve. The Waorani, a semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer people, have fiercely guarded this territory from outsiders for over a thousand years, in complete isolation. In 1958, Evangelical missionaries, supported by U.S. oil companies, made the first lasting contact, and swiftly sequestered a large scattering of Waorani families into a small “missionary protectorate”, opening what was once completely inaccessible rainforest to oil companies, loggers, and settlers. Within two decades, half the population had died from the known lack of immunity to foreign diseases, while targeted reeducation programs nearly eradicated their culture completely. Today, much of the Waorani territory is fractured by a network of oil rigs, roads, and boomtowns. Anita’s remote community of Kewediono, is considered among the last bastions of the Waorani culture. But that too is beginning to erode.